Wrestler-Turned-Lawmaker Says Japanese Politicians May Visit Pyongyang

A former wrestler-turned-lawmaker who once fought Muhammad Ali said some members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are considering visiting Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leaders.

"In the LDP there are some people seeking dialogue," independent lawmaker Antonio Inoki told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday, without providing any names or saying how many were considering a trip. "There’s a change in atmosphere at the moment" about the need for talks rather than pressure, he said.

Antonio Inoki

Photographer: Andy Sharp/Bloomberg

Inoki, 74, said he has visited the country 32 times and on a trip to Pyongyang earlier this month he said he met with top officials including Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Kim Yong Nam, president of the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly. While he didn’t elaborate on his discussions with them, he said they had "frank" talks over drinks.

"Leaders of both the U.S. and North Korea are raising their fists and creating more tension," Inoki said. "I’m looking to see who will lower their fist first."

Inoki has a track record of negotiating with rogue leaders. As a lawmaker in 1990, he traveled to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein, helping to secure the release of Japanese hostages during the first Gulf War. He lost his seat five years later. Inoki, the first Japanese to be elected to the Wrestling Federation’s Hall of Fame, was re-elected to Japan’s upper house in 2013 -- decades after he fought Ali to a draw in a cross-discipline bout.

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